A year ago, one could make a pretty strong case that Detroit Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson was the only legitimate weapon the team had in its passing attack. Fast-forward to now, however, and that is no longer the case thanks to the development of wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (90-912-5), drafting of Jameson Williams (knee), and the veteran additions of Josh Reynolds, who was claimed off waivers last year, and DJ Chark Jr., who was signed from the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency.
As always when talent is added, it serves as something of a double-edged sword for Hockenson heading into his fourth season. On the plus side, the former first-round pick can no longer be the central focus for opposing defenses whenever quarterback Jared Goff drops back to pass. Of course, the downside is that Goff will have more options at his disposal, including Reynolds, who he’s familiar with from their time together with the Los Angeles Rams, and St. Brown, who emerged as a very reliable target over the final month-plus of 2021.
While the pathway to fantasy relevance looks a bit more daunting on the surface for Hockenson, there are some caveats worth exploring. For starters, it’s unclear when Williams will return from the torn ACL he suffered during the National Championship Game in January. Odds are the Lions will be careful with their prized wideout in a year when they’re not expected to compete for a playoff berth, so he may not even be a factor until later in the season.
St. Brown closed incredibly strong to be sure — 51 receptions (on 67 targets), 560 yards, and five touchdowns over the final six games — but it’s important to remember that Hockenson was lost for the season to a thumb injury in Week 13 and missed the last five weeks. Clearly, the Iowa product’s absence had a lot to do with St. Brown’s massive uptick in usage, and with both guys being possession options there’s no reason to believe Goff would heavily favor one over the other.
Beyond usage, durability is another issue with Hockenson, as he has suffered season-ending injuries in two of his three NFL campaigns. In 2019, it was an ankle issue, and last year’s thumb injury required surgery to correct. He’s healthy now and ready to go, but missing nine games in three years must be viewed as at least a minor red flag, even if the injuries aren’t the sort to cause long-term concern.
Fantasy football outlook
While not a true boom-or-bust type player, Hockenson has moderate variance between his ceiling and his floor. He doesn’t belong in the top five at the position, but he could slide into that next group of five, making him a midrange or low-end TE1.